Thursday, February 12, 2009

Appalachia: this land is your land

"Isolated pockets in Central Appalachia have three times the national poverty rate, an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, the shortest life span in the nation, toothlessness, cancer, and chronic depression."

The topic is in my mind often and this Diane Sawyer piece coming up Friday night hits my heart.

The Appalachian mountains are a land of such beauty, heart, and song.

Maybe I "feel" it being a Southern person, but wherever you are from, these are "our" people and this is "our" land.

If you've ever been in the Appalachian mountains, you know what I mean. The scenery is quite stunning. Stopping in some tiny town along your way, you'll never find nicer and more hospitable folks. But somehow our country has turned a blind eye to these people for years and years--making them a cliche joke. They are ignored and disrespected as people. There land is continuously raped. Appalachian mountaintops are literally removed and thousands of miles of streams are poisoned due to blasting for coal instead of the more tedious process of mining.

Yes, many of the people eat junk food, but it is because sadly it is cheaper to feed your family soda than it is to buy milk. Its "smarter" and cheaper economically to buy processed or canned foods than fresh. If you've ever road-tripped or camped off the beaten path and gone into some little grocery store, you would find a lot of the vegetables and fruit are on the verge of being spoiled, if not already ridden with spots and mold. I am NOT exaggerating (aside from the South, I found this to be the case in small towns in the Mid-West--try visiting a reservation not linked to a casino). Obviously the markets are not throwing out bad food and replacing it with the spotless, shiny choices as we are so accustomed.

Many folks in Appalachia and other poorer parts of this country are addicted to Mtn. Dew. Its cheap and its basically an inexpensive anti-depressant with all that sugar and caffeine. If you are tired and hungry and barely have food of substance in your system, your body can keep going a bit on soda before the bad crash. But then you need it again, and there we have the addictive cycle which starts often with toddlers.

Why are they toothless? Not because they are ignorant. It is because of their diet and economics. The soda acid and sugar eats away at their teeth. If you have only a few dollars, you are going to put clothes on your kids and a roof over their head instead of going to an expensive dentist. It is basic survival my friends.

"With no car and no public transportation, Angel walks 16 miles, roundtrip, four hours total, to her GED class."

Sure, in this economy we are all hunkering down a bit. We contemplate dining at home (on say, organic baby greens and gourmet cheese) to save money instead of going out for dinner. Most of us just don't have to make these very real choices.

How has this region been ignored for so long? Maybe it is because it is off the beaten track, not some impoverished block of streets within a major city. I don't know the reasons, I just wonder how much longer they will be ignored.....

Thanks to fellow steel magnolia Diane Sawyer for working on this piece for the past 2 years.

A Hidden America: Children of Appalachia:

The bad process of mountain top removal:

No comments: